1. A Belgian brewery and a family story
The first hopped flavour at the basis of this amazing family story dates back to 1829, when Édouard Caulier, farmer and artisan-brewer, started his business in Neufvilles (Hainaut). With increased success, came a second brewery in Mons in 1852.
Under the impetus of his son Edmond, mayor of Neufvilles and senator, the family business expanded rapidly with a success that easily outgrew Hanaut border, notably thanks to the construction of a brewery in Brussels in 1869.
The mash tubs succeeded each other over the decades, with numerous success stories like Gauloise, Vieille Brune, Saison Caulier and the iconic Perle 28 Caulier.
Today still, on the strength of its international reputation, the group’s business keeps close to its Belgian roots. The company aims to perpetuate flavour and tradition, know-how and quality, but also a spirit of innovation.
2. Foothold in Africa
Michel Relecom, the sixth generation of brewers in the Caulier family, made a bet to develop and gather under a single brand, several breweries located in Congo (Stanleyville, Luluabourg, Leopoldville and Paulis), by surrounding himself with recognized personalities from the world of brewing.
This is how, in 1960, he created the UNIBRA group, breathing new life into family brewery history on a new continent: Africa.
In 1964, in collaboration with major brewery groups – Allied Breweries Ltd. (United Kingdom), John Labatt Ltd. (Canada), Pripp Bryggerierna A.B. (Sweden) – UNIBRA decided to create Skol International in order to develop and distribute the Skol brand throughout the world.
In Congo, thanks to the SKOL brand, UNIBRA experienced industrial growth and commercial success that enabled it, several times, to become the leader in this highly competitive market.
Unibra also had to face periods of political unrest (1960-1964), “Zairianisation” (1973), “radicalisation” (1974), “retrocession” (1975) and looting (1991-1993).
Following Michel Relecom’s sudden death in 1994, his wife, Maïté Relecom, conscious of the local reality and future corporate initiatives, took over the company’s helm in 2010 and to handed it over to her son Thibault, current CEO of UNIBRA. Today, the vision of Unibra in Africa revolves around the development of the brand, with a clear desire to perpetuate and develop the brewery business.
3. The culture of diversification and know-how
Through more than a century and a half of history, the family has never stopped to reinvent itself, by coming up with new product ranges and by investing in various industrial projects. This business culture, its experience and multiple changes it had to face throughout its history have enabled it to ensure the group’s continued success.
The family made it a point to involve local populations and develop the best collaborations, in both the productive force and the quality of the product.
Today, the UNIBRA group produces a wide range of beers, which it brews and distributes on a large portion of the African continent. Skol is currently brewed in the Democratic Republic of Congo, in Rwanda, in Guinea-Conakry, in Madagascar and soon also in Ethiopia, in synergy with local partners.
UNIBRA’s know-how nonetheless does not stop with the production and distribution of beer.
From the very start, UNIBRA has made sure to diversify its activities and to emerge as a holding company that manages industrial as well as real estate and financial activities.
For example, UNIBRA has developed several real estate projects, notably in Spain in the 1960s. Towards the end of the 1970s, UNIBRA launched a real estate investment program in the United States, in the form of the purchase of equity holdings in partnerships investing in both office buildings as well as commercial spaces.
In the 1980s-1990s, Unibra set up a brewing engineering firm (Unibra Engineering), which has performed evaluation, rehabilitation, construction and management assignments for independent brewers throughout the African continent (Madagascar, Cameroon, Nigeria, etc.).
In 2000, Unibra became a reference shareholder in the second largest publishing house, Média-Participations. It sold its stake in 2016.
Since 2007, the real estate business in Belgium has been bolstered by various acquisitions that enabled it to develop its portfolio.
In 2015, Unibra acquired a stake in the Martens group, the second largest Belgian brewer in terms of produced volume and a major player in full development in the brewing industry of white brands (private label).
This investment represents Unibra’s ambition to create a niche in a rising industry and to diversify its brewing activities geographically.
These various stakes have allowed for a healthy diversification of activities, so as to ensure the group’s continuity throughout the generations.